The Indian Muslim


September 08, 2015

Indian Muslims offer Jummat-ul-Vida, the last congregational Friday prayers during the holy month of Ramadan at Jama Masjid in New Delhi on July 25, 2014 (AFP)

According to the latest census, the Muslim population in India has grown at a slower pace in the last decade, debunking theories of galloping numbers.

However, smaller numbers cannot ensure economic prosperity unless the community accepts modern education and are open to change

Statistics can be simple and bring clarity to many an issue. The same figures can also be looked at from a different perspective to show, if not prove, the contrary. It is like beauty in the eyes of the beholder. Something on these lines has been debated during the last couple of weeks to drive home different points of view on the status of Muslims in Indian society. It is not that there have not been enough debates in the past but the current one has some added incentives.

The first one is that the 2011 Census report was finally released by the federal government. It was clearly a political decision that the government took as much as its predecessor preferred to sit on it fearing a political backlash that would further the cause of its opposition. It appears, in retrospect, that the then government knew exactly how the figures would be looked at, through eyes that would distort reality. Its perception, it seems, was not entirely wrong.

Be that as it may, the figures have proved that the growth rate in the Muslim population is not as big as it was made out to be by some organisations. In fact, the rate of growth has fallen from 29 per cent in the previous decade (1991- 2001) to 24-plus per cent in the 2001-2011 decade. More interesting was that the gap between the Hindus and the Muslims in the growth rate was narrowing. The census also found that in the next few decades India’s Muslim population would be the highest among other countries, including some Gulf and Middle East countries.

But, the fundamental point being made out in these figures is that the Muslim population will never be able to race up anywhere close to that of the Hindus. Indeed, the margin of difference in the population between the two communities is perhaps the largest ever among religious communities. The country has 966.3mn Hindus constituting 79.8 per cent of the population.

The Muslims, on the other hand, number 172.2mn or 14.23 per cent of the population. Among the other minorities, the Christians constitute 2.3 per cent and the Sikhs 2.16 per cent of the population.

Basically, what these figures show is that the Muslims have realised the benefits of family planning mainly because it impacts their economic survival. These figures should have quietened all those who apprehended that the Muslim population was growing at such a fast rate that the Hindus would be outnumbered in the country. But, as mentioned earlier, these very figures are being looked at from a prism that is beyond comprehension, like the population of Hindus has fallen. What these critics are not seeing is that the fertility rates are falling among all religious communities, including the Muslims.

As much as the fall in the growth rate should gladden the hearts of many, an indication of the growth in employment appears to be far far away from what is desired. Indeed, the economic disempowerment of Muslims has been indicated in a study by a financial daily. The study points out that a dismal 2.67 per cent of the largest 500 listed companies have Muslims as directors or senior executives. The percentage goes up to 4.6 per cent among the Top 100 companies. And, affirmative action that has been reluctantly implemented by the private sector has not been focussed on the Muslims though, economically, it is well accepted that their condition is not any different from that of the scheduled castes and tribes.

There is no doubt that the key to finding employment is education and that is where the problem lies. Statistics show how the process of modern education in the southern states as compared to conservative education processes in the northern states is impacting population control. In fact, this is where the issues raised by Vice President Hamid Ansari need to be looked at in a holistic manner. He bluntly told an umbrella organisation of the Muslim community that it is certainly the responsibility of the State (as distinct from a government) to implement the programmes for the benefit of the community. But, it is also incumbent upon the community to ensure that it is open to change and not to do anything which begets a reaction from the major community.  

The challenge, really, is to look at the available statistics from the perspective of socio-economic development. Not necessarily from a demographic perspective. Such an approach certainly has its advantages. The Indian Muslim has not been forced to go elsewhere as a migrant seeking refuge as it has been happening in some parts of the world.

RSS comes out of purdah

A meeting of this kind had not taken place earlier and has raised more questions than answers. Imagine ministers of the federal government presenting their performance reports before a large number of participants who were not representatives of the people aka Members of Parliament. One of those who participated in this strange spectacle was also the most powerful of Prime Ministers in 30 years, Narendra Modi, who dutifully presented his performance report to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or the RSS.

To the uninitiated, the RSS is the mother organisation of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and allied Hindu nationalist organisations. Officially, the RSS describes itself merely as a cultural organisation but is well known to order its representatives sent to the BJP to act at its behest. Modi himself, like many others in the party organisation now, was a worker of the RSS before he was sent to do political work for the BJP. At various levels, informal consultations were the norm all these years.

Even during the tenure of A B Vajpayee as prime minister, there were coordination meetings between the BJP leaders and the RSS leaders to discuss broad issues. The consultative process did not stop the RSS from forcing Vajpayee to remove a couple of ministers and replace them with its choice of representatives.

At no point of time did the RSS try to show that it was influencing government functioning. Even if it did, it was all below the radar. But, last week-end’s meeting stands apart because it was an open assertion of the might of the RSS over the party’s government.

What could have made the mother organisation come out, so to speak, of the closet and assert that all ministers are, indeed, reporting to it? What has made this cultural organisation publicly say that the government did submit itself before it? If one believes friends in the RSS, it would appear that the organisation wanted to be more transparent to avoid controversies. Such openness had become imperative also because society had changed and the modes of communication had changed dramatically in the last few years to even give an official briefing on the discussions.

The public stance also comes in the wake of a singular factor. That is the Modi factor. The fact that a RSS worker worked his way up to become the Prime Minister is an important point. It’s a different matter that he directly reached out to the people to even make some who had reservations to accept him and force the old guard like L K Advani out of active politics. The RSS has also backed him to the hilt when some of the organisations like the trade union wing or the farmer’s wing have opposed certain policies of the BJP government. This is one factor that was missing during the tenure of Vajpayee as Prime Minister.

The question is for how long will this political cohesiveness between the mass leader and the mother organisation last when it comes to decisions of the government that will have to be rooted in constitutional guarantees. This is because Modi was chosen to lead the country on the promise of economic development and not on the agenda of Hindutva. That brings one to the succinct point that one of the friends in the RSS made: ‘the sangha is old enough to see waves come and go’.

Tailpiece

The Supreme Court of India has found a solution to a love-smitten young man who landed in serious trouble. The resident of the southern city of Secunderabad attempted to stalk a young girl but was warned by her parents to stop it.

 One day, he climbed into her bedroom to hold her hand and propose marriage to her. The lower court convicted him with a five year sentence for outraging the modesty of a woman. On appeal, the High Court reduced it to two years. He tried his luck before the apex court to further reduce his sentence.

The Supreme Court’s suggestion was that he seek her forgiveness and if she agreed, it would permit limiting the sentence further. The result is still awaited.

[The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Muscat Daily or Apex Press & Publishing]